The student experience at large has changed. Can you meet the challenge with your work on campus to support this new model? Listen in as guest host Craig McAllister, University of Miami and an URMIA Board Member interviews authors and practitioners Cole Clark, Deloitte and Jeff Selingo, Arizona State University discuss the future of higher education.
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Craig: Welcome to URMIAmatters, I’m Craig McAllister, this episode’s guest host. I’m joining the podcast today from the University of Miami. I would like to introduce Jeff Selingo and Cole Clarke as coauthors, along with others on an article that caught our attention about the hybrid campus. We’ll share the article in the show notes. I would like to have Jeff tell us a little bit about himself.
Jeff: Thanks Craig, thanks for having me. So I’ve been in and around higher education for more than 20 years. I spent 16 years at the Chronicle of Higher Education, where I was the editor as well as a writer and reporter over those years, and since then I’ve written a couple books on higher education including who gets in and why, you’re inside college admissions, which is my latest from Simon & Schuster. I cohost the podcast Future You with Michael Horn and I’m a special advisor and professor of practice at Arizona State University.
Craig: Thanks, Jeff. And Cole, please tell us about yourself.
Cole: Thanks for having me, and Jeff, to talk about this very important topic. I’m a managing director in Deloitte’s higher education practice and also serve as a fellow in our center for higher education excellence, which is the organization from which this monograph originated. I’ve been around higher ed for 30 years as evidenced by the extra gray in my beard, but I’ve spent most of that time sitting at the crossroads between technology and higher ed strategy and culture. I started my career at Apple and Apple had its roots in teaching and learning with technology and was with several other technology firms until joining Deloitte in 2015. I hail from Atlanta, Georgia and I also serve as a trustee on the Board of the Western Governors University.
Craig: Thanks, Cole. And welcome to both of you to URMIAmatters. Today’s episode is focused on hearing about what the group uncovered during their study of the state of campuses right now, and how we as risk managers can stay ahead of the curve as much as possible with the ever-changing environment during COVID and beyond. Let’s start with the impetus for doing your work. Tell us why it was important to document these findings in the midst of the pandemic.
Cole: Jeff knows back in the late spring when it seemed like the wheels were coming off of everything, I reached out to him and said, how can we start to think about where this will all end up in another one to two years vs all of the focus at that time was on how do we get kids home, how do we think about maybe reopening campuses in the fall, what do we do about the financial situation, both the loss of revenues from tuition and from auxiliaries as well as the need to acquire all this infrastructure in order to make that rapid pivot to online work and online instruction and after Jeff laughed at me for a little bit, we started to put our heads together about getting a group of higher ed leaders from across both the higher ed spectrum, just in terms of different types of institutions as well as different types of roles: chancellors, provos, CFOs, CIOs, CHR, human resource leaders, to begin to try and get them to put aside the issues of the day and escape the tyranny of the urgent for at least an hour or two and they agreed to meet together with us, Jeff facilitated these meetings and then also they agreed to be surveyed by us over the course of the summer to really try and help us get at what are some of the positives, the things that we can leverage and harness for the good of higher ed in the long term, not just really focus on the short-term. Jeff, do you think I characterized that accurately?
Jeff: Yeah, and I think one of the things, Craig, that emerged from these conversations is this idea of the hybrid campus, right. That the idea that, we talked a lot about hybrid classes, which were obviously have been a big thing before the pandemic, this idea of flipping a classroom where individual professors might take some of their class online and the rest of their class is face-to-face, but we were also seeing examples.. For example like at the University of Central Florida, where residential students were taking online classes, right, Arizona State University students were mixing and matching in person classes and online classes, but what we started to see coming out of this group is a discussion about how to take what was already going on in the retail world, especially during the pandemic, that I could order something at home depot and I could have it delivered to me, I could pick it up in the store, or I could look to see what shelf it is on at the store. This idea of the omnichannel idea and how do you apply that to a college campus so that the idea of the hybrid campus is not just in the classroom, but it goes well beyond the walls of the classroom. Student affairs, academic affairs, advising, financial, career services and of course the workplace, the University is a workplace, and that was really the idea that emerged from this group that became the thesis for this paper- is that we have to think beyond just hybrid courses and classes, but to think about everything at the University through this potential lens of a mix of face-to face and online.
Cole: And there was really no way for us to frankly get into every aspect that needed to be covered, so we picked three broad areas. The student experience, and the student experience at large, not just the classroom experience, but the entire experience from the time an individual is a prospect at an institution all the way through to their status as an alum and everything in between. That was one major area of focus. The other was the nature of work on campus, the human resource, whether administrative or academic and really rethinking not only where work gets done, how it gets done, by whom, and that was a second major area of focus. And then the third was rethinking the academic programming and really reexamining the connectivity to employers to understand better what needs to be added to get the country back on track, but also what not to do anymore. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for institutions is deciding what to stop in order to invest in new things and something that we really focused on in this paper.
Craig: So thank you. So, the first question that comes to mind is how do you manage expectations for the lifetime, the life experience on campus for that residential setting, everything from fraternity and sorority connections, the social life, the interaction with faculty, playing sports, how does that fit within this higher ed model?
Jeff: So I don’t think this is an either or and unfortunately I think this idea of a binary choice in higher ed has been given to us up to this point. You’re either online or face to face, but never shall the two mix, and potentially we also saw online is something that served life-long learners and adult learners and we saw something as face-to-face that served 18-22 year olds, but we know that the mindsets and motivations for students no matter what their age or demographic is going to be different based on what they need at that particular moment and that’s really what the hybrid campus is trying to serve. We’re not saying by the way do away with the residential experience, what we’re saying is take a look at your campus, particularly by the way through the lens of the pandemic because I think we’ve learned what really needs to be done face-to-face. Where are the high-impact practices, the learning that happens in residential life for example. Athletics, obviously classroom experiences, meeting with professors. Things like that that have to happen face-to-face, but what are all the services, and we know there are a ton and Cole could hopefully go into some of those, that don’t have to be done face-to-face. Like, do I really have to go see somebody in the financial aid office or the bursars office for example. To get what I need to get done, or can that be done more efficiently or more easily by students online.
Cole: And I think, one of the points I made, many times, in discussing this paper is that all of these recommendations could be adopted by an institution that was primarily going to remain largely residential and still vastly improve through connectivity with students, student success, completion. So, again back to Jeff’s point, it’s definitely not a binary choice or an either or.
Craig: And, certainly, what are the challenges that I see to this is change of management. Anytime we change the academics, the work force, the work space, in your article you played out those three areas and I was wondering if you could start off and talk about the academics and how you envision that changing.
Cole: I think from a, as I mentioned before, on the academic side there’s tremendous momentum to be harnessed in the near term. How many faculty members of most institutions had actually taught an online course prior to the pandemic was shockingly low. I think the numbers that have been quoted have been in the 30-35% range. That now is almost a universal, and I think it’s had an enormous impact on their understanding, and frankly the acceptance of these modalities as ways to enhance teaching and learning, and so I think that changed management question is an important one but I also think now is the time to really make some, take advantage of the momentum that this otherwise negative event in our history before this.
Craig: Thanks, Cole, and certainly from risk managers, we always talk about not wasting a crisis and the wise man who made that original statement. So taking the opportunity to make these changes, if you could talk about the changing workforce or the workspace as well.
Cole: Yeah, Jeff, I don’t want to monopolize the conversation here but the one thing that did pop into my mind as well was, is it relates to the working environment is that in the crises a lot of institutions were motivated to develop what we call central management hubs or decision making bodies to rapidly make decisions that affected a whole range of otherwise generally independent and siloed entities within the academic enterprise, and we’ve suggested that higher education should hang on to that, that don’t use it just as an emergency move, but it actually helps to, first of all, understand the impacts that these decisions have on the broad institutions, academic as well as administrative, and it makes the institution, believe it or not, move faster and become more nimble and able to respond to change. Much like what I alluded to earlier when you asked about what the change management piece, is that a lot of higher ed’s administrative human resource has now spent almost an entire year working at least partially remotely from home or from some other location. So I think that the momentum is there and frankly university is going to have to grapple with this because a lot of individuals are not wanting to go back to the way it was, not necessarily for health and safety reasons but just for the other benefits that having this mixed mode of working provides them, and I think they’re going to have to get their arms around this sooner rather than later. We’ve seen a number of universities asking for help in developing a, I think this is an overused term but, future of work strategy, or return to work strategy because they realized that it isn’t going to go back to the way it was before entirely, and they need help in laying out exactly what that should look like.
Jeff: Craig, I think that Cole brings up a great point. I think too often we see this as what’s innovative here is the technology, and that has nothing to do with it. What’s really innovative here is rethinking how stuff gets done on campuses, and again I want to really go back to this idea of the high impact practices that we know help students succeed, right. When we think of all the jobs that are done on a college campus, we have to really start to think about what are the ones that really impact students’ success, what are the ones that students really need to have that face-to face experience, and when I look 20+ years spending on hundreds and hundreds of college campuses there were so many things that we just hired and had people do, right. Processes that we had people do that really don’t necessarily need to be done by people or need to be done by people in that physical setting with students, and that to me is as, I think, an easy binary way to think about this is where does the face-to-face experience for the student matter, and where doesn’t it matter and when you look at that list of where doesn’t it matter, which I think by the way is going to be a lot longer than I think most campuses realize, which ones of those can be done remotely, through technology, through more of an online kind of basis, and that to me is where the win in all this is. I just want to bring up one quick example, Georgia State, which is one of the institutions that we did a case study in the paper on around financial aid. Georgia State is always highly touted for the work that they’ve done with student success, they really increase their graduation rates across the board, and one of the things they’ve realized is with their call center for example around financial aid is that students used to call in and they would just be sitting, waiting on the line. Now, because of social distancing rules, all those call center people had to work from home and you had to put a ticket in to tell them what you needed to call about. Now they were able to bunch a lot of those together, they were able to send it to people who really knew the answer to those questions and, again, they changed, they didn’t change the technology, they changed the work process and in the end it actually made them much more efficient in serving students.
Craig: Thanks, Jeff. And, I see as the new model of how services are being delivered, that also helps with the resiliency of the institution by being flexible, so the next, whether it’s a pandemic or a hurricane or a fire, other things that come up, the institution is still able to operate by using these different technologies and remote workforce. Is this something that, will all institutions be able to do this? What are your views on that down the road?
Cole: We definitely discovered that those institutions that are already headed down this path pre pandemic were far better prepared to pivot and suffered less than some of those that had not, anecdote after anecdote on places like Central Florida and Georgia State,which had instituted the, on an enterprise scale, the use of some of these technologies, chatbots, online courses, automation. They definitely were in much better shape, but I think in addition to being more resilient, it also makes the institution more appealing to a broader set of potential students, and I think there’s a tremendous upside here in terms of for those institutions that want to do this, broadening access to a much wider set of individuals that want some mix between online and in person either within their local community or outside their community. We’re seeing that already and I think that given how much hand-wringing there’s been about an impending cliff from a demographic perspective for enrollment of traditional 18-22 year olds, this is good news.
Craig: Thanks, Cole. It’s certainly with a changing demographics are something that’s been on the risk register for many institutions and as we look at that going forward. So, clearly this is just the start of the conversation for many campuses and is not inclusive of all the ideas that are out there, but at the end of your article you shared five success factors for building a hybrid university of the future, how do you see folks in risk management being leaders in this transformation?
Cole: I’ll make one then stay out of this. Jeff can give a quick response. I think of the five, the one that jumps out at me is the new financial models and incentives. This is an area where there’s risk involved whenever you start messing around with the way money moves around on a campus and how you create incentives and so forth but to me this is a risk to be embraced because the only way in a true shared governance environment that you’re going to get these changes effectuated in the near term is to build incentives in to make sure that individuals who take risks are rewarded and so that to me is one that stands out from a risk management perspective. Jeff?
Jeff: Yeah, the one that stands out to me is just around the culture we’re in, I think, for some pretty difficult days ahead of us in higher ed around who do our institutions serve, why do they serve them and how do we serve these students with the talent that we have, with the human resources that we have. This is going to really require rethinking human resources, which are obviously our people. It involves peoples’ jobs. I mean whenever you involve peoples’ jobs obviously there are big not only cultural risk but also financial risks and other reputational risks out there. That to me, this is going to require a rethinking of the higher ed workforce in a way that I don’t think most institutions have really thought of for maybe 20, 30 or 40 years and that to me is really, probably the biggest risk out there.
Craig: I would say, what does the american university looks like 20 years from now? It will be the question that will continue to go on. This certainly gives us a lot to focus on as we emerge from the crisis and I hope that there’s not too many people who will be losing sleep over this or being able to manage this in a thoughtful way and using the new groups that have been formed and the new connections that have been made at the institutions that go with that. It’s certainly the thoughts that Cole and Jeff had brought here will continue with that. I’d like to thank Jeff and Cole for their time today and the insights towards the future of higher education, so again thank you on behalf of URMIA, and this wraps another episode of URMIAmatters.